Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke take their place as “The Princess and the Queen” this week, playing older versions of Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower, respectively. A 10-year time jump is a long time, but apparently not long enough for Alicent to get over her jealousy, Ser Criston Cole to get over his rejection, and King Viserys to get over… well, whatever the hell it is that ails him. (The man looks like a chunk of rotting meat. Someone send help!)
As always, we’re measuring where everyone stands in the ever-growing line for the Iron Throne this week, and boy has this past decade not been kind to some contenders.
Ser Criston Cole
In further proof that, even in a fantasy world filled with dragons and magic and silver-haired queens, basic white men just never take rejection well, Ser Criston Cole has gone full medieval incel when House of the Dragon picks back up after the 10-year time jump. Somehow, despite killing an innocent man unprovoked and laying hands on the future king consort, Cole has been able to keep his job but instead of being Rhaenyra’s Kingsguard, he now simps for Queen Alicent. You’d think a decade would be enough time for him to get over a one-night-stand with a literal teenager but Cole is still as bitter as ever, stalking around the castle calling Rhaenyra a spoiled c*nt (rude), and refusing to properly train her sons alongside Alicent’s. Too bad this guy didn’t castrate his toxic masculinity in that Godswood because he reeks of it right now.
Aegon II Targaryen
That little sh*t jacking off on the balcony of Kings Landing and gifting his dragon-less little brother a winged pig? That’s not Mike Wheeler in a wig, y’all, that’s Aegon II Targaryen. You know, the cherubic usurper who had a weekend glamping expedition to celebrate his second name day just a couple of episodes prior. Aegon is (almost) all grown up and doing his best Joffrey Lannister impersonation at the moment, beating up boys smaller than him, bullying his own kin, and doing weird sex stuff. He might be Alicent’s pick to sit on the Iron Throne but, surprisingly, Aegon doesn’t seem to want the crown at the moment – even going against his mother by claiming it’s Rhaenyra’s birthright. He’ll likely change his tune soon enough but for now, he’s just a little weirdo controlled by his raging hormones.
Speaking of the right and future Queen, the years have not been kind to Rhaenyra Targayren. Emma D’Arcy (they/them) plays the older version of the heir apparent and we meet her in this episode soon after she gives birth to her third son. (Really, we cannot stress enough how soon after – like afterbirth expelling soon.) It’s clear that, while Rhaenyra was born to lead, she hasn’t mastered the politics of court. Alicent has her father’s ear – even sitting in and managing small council meetings – and the questionable parentage of her three boys has thrown her claim in doubt. While Rhaenyra and Laenor may be happy with their progressive living arrangement – their blended family is truly aspirational and wholly unexpected from a world created by George R.R. Martin – Alicent is fuming that, once again, Rhaenyra gets to make her own rules while she must play by the ones her father put in place a decade earlier. Jealous much? Unfortunately, try as she might to make peace with Alicent – proposing a union between her son and Alicent’s daughter, and promising a dragon’s egg to Aemond should have been enough to build a bridge if her evil stepmother wasn’t such a bitter, power-hungry harpy – Rhaenyra can’t seem to find a foothold in Kings Landing. Her lover/baby daddy Ser Harwin Strong is banished from court only to suffer a terrible death alongside his father, the former Hand of the King, once they return to Harrenhaal, her uncle has all but abandoned her, and her husband would rather bar-hop around Flea Bottom than do his duty. Rhaenyra makes a decision that will likely come to haunt her later, taking her family and returning to Dragonstone, giving Alicent full reign of the Red Keep. And here we thought she was smarter than that.
The “Strong” Boys
It’s not Jacaerys & Lucerys Velaryon’s fault that the concept of an open marriage just has taken off in Westeros yet but the boys look too plain for their mother to explain away their parentage which means, even if Jacaerys should inherit the Iron Throne one day, he likely won’t. What’s worse, because Alicent and Ser Criston Cole are so blatantly obvious about their hatred for Rhaenyra, the boys are made to suffer for her alleged crimes – in the dragon pit and the practice ring. By the end of this episode, they lose the only home they’ve known, their real father dies, and their inheritance is threatened in a major way.
Laenor Velaryon is the supportive gay husband every woman dreams of having but even he isn’t perfect. He’s clearly still mourning the loss of his first love – he names his third son after his slain boyfriend – and he’s chaffing at court life, longing for war and the open sea. To dull the pain of having to deal with the melodrama of basic Karens day-in and day-out, Laenor imbibes … heavily. Which might be why Rhaenyra’s so pissed at him this episode. She could care less that he flaunts his boy toys all over Flea Bottom – though that likely doesn’t help the whole paternity problem they’re facing – she does take issue with how terrible he is at playing the game for the Iron Throne. He’d rather chase glory on the battlefield than ensure his family’s legacy and that’s just not the kind of attitude that guarantees someone a long life on this show.
King Viserys Targaryen
If any medical professionals watch this show, please diagnose Viserys because the man does not look well. He’s sallow, blistered, with rotting teeth and a weak constitution and his mental facilities just aren’t all there. Whatever his actual illness is, Viserys is a king in name only at this point. His wife runs the show and everyone, from the small council members to Rhaenyra herself, knows it.
Another main character who gets an actor swap this episode is the Queen Regent, Alicent Hightower, and boy does Olivia Cooke EAT this episode. Our introduction to this older, more manipulative version of Rhaenyra’s childhood best friend sets the tone for their contentious relationship. The sweat of labor hasn’t even dried on Rhaenyra’s brow when Alicent demands to see the baby, umbilical cord still attached and all. And her power is so unchecked at this point that Rhaenyra obeys without argument. It seems that Alicent has let her father’s paranoia marry with her own jealousy over Rhaenyra’s station because she constantly see-saws between envying her friend’s freedom and privilege, and panicking over her son’s future. Despite never threatening Aegon, Alicent is convinced that, should Rhaenyra take the throne, his life will be in danger. But Alicent Hightower — for all her scheming and backstabbing — is still just a poor woman’s Cersei Lannister at this point. She’s still clinging to impractical ideals like morality and virtue, thinking she deserves power and prestige because she’s played the part of a good daughter and wife all these years. She’s counting on karma to punish Rhaenyra, which makes her self-righteousness even harder to stomach because she doesn’t have the backbone to be as cutthroat as her ambition demands. Luckily, she’s got friends for that.
Forget slut-era, Daemon Targaryen is firmly in his male-wife era and, somehow, even hotter for it. He suffers this episode, it’s true. His wife, Laena, chooses to burn herself to crisp rather than suffer the same fate as Queen Aemma, and he’s stuck in Pentos, playing the part of a sell-sword because he has no inheritance to speak of. But, Daemon seems to have settled a bit. Dare we say, he’s matured? He’s a girl-dad now, he’s free to do as he pleases, and he’s somewhat escaped the shadow of his brother and his House. He’s a contender for the throne this week simply because he’s stayed far enough removed from the drama in Kings Landing to prove dangerous once he does enter the succession discourse.
Back when House of the Dragon premiered we assumed Otto Hightower was this show’s Littlefinger stand-in. Readers, we were wrong. Otto might one day prove to be more like a Tywin Lannister – we’re still not sure – but the title of Westeros’ most devious sociopath is firmly in Larys Strong’s grip after this episode. The man is cuckoo’s nest crazy – a sociopath who happily burns his own kin alive for a spot closer to the throne. It’s insinuated that, while his father nobly tried to help Viserys rule the Seven Kingdoms and his brother kept the future queen’s bed warm over the past decade, Larys has been whispering in Alicent’s ear, sowing discord and using his connections to manipulate the happenings at court. Why we’re still not sure. It’s one thing to hate your family to the point of orchestrating their deaths, but Larys doesn’t seem the type to want to bask in the glory of his scheming as Littlefinger did. Alicent and Ser Cole are fueled by bitterness and jealousy, Aegon might one day be motivated by a lust for power, but Larys? Larys seems happy to just collect favors at this point while doing the dirty work his friends don’t have the stomach to do themselves. He’s the true wild card of this show and we’re disappointed we didn’t see it sooner.
HBO’s ‘House of the Dragon’ airs on Sunday nights.